Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Facing down the bust -- thoughtfully

Wyoming faces another bust as lower natural gas prices reduce mineral revenues. The ESPC is out in front offering numerous ideas to help craft sustainable taxing and spending policies that both invest in Wyoming’s people now and save for the future.

In a recently-published guest editorial, we talked about the need for thoughtful budgeting. Rather than taking a meat cleaver to state spending, we said programs should be evaluated to see if they’re still needed and working efficiently. And we suggested the state look at the revenue side of the budget, including tapping its considerable savings, ending some tax exemptions, and increasing severance tax rates. We noted:

“All the things we Wyomingites say we want – a more vibrant and diverse economy, a clean environment and wildlife, and low crime rates – depend on continued investment. Main Street survives on people with jobs and spending money, not laid-off employees. Department of Environmental Quality inspectors are barely covering the ground as it is; cuts will mean regulatory delays and spotty enforcement. When the cuts trickle down to local governments, police and sheriff departments will take a hit just like everyone else.”

It will take a major effort from all of us to convince our legislators that we don’t have to slash budgets and turn away from the progress the state has made with investments in infrastructure and education. Unfortunately, too many state policy-makers, including Gov. Dave Freudenthal, have rushed to cut spending, again subjecting the state to yo-yo budgeting that reduces the ability to deliver services when they are most needed. We need to protect investments in public education, health care and child care.

Cutting programs like KidCare insurance and Medicaid will shove those costs off on the private sector when people show up in doctors' offices and hospital emergency rooms. We've already decided that we're not going to turn sick people away. By cutting those budgets, the state expects private providers to take on the costs.

There's a better way. But we've got to look at more options, including putting savings on the table and considering tax hikes if we can't otherwise cover those costs.